18.6.18

YEAH YEAH YEAH by Bob Stanley



In noting the death of my old friend Jerry Hopkins two weeks ago I mentioned that Jerry’s biography of Elvis, published in 1971, was the second rock book I ever read, after Hunter Davies’ Beatles book. The third was Rock From The Beginning, aka Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom, by Nik Cohn with whom I became friendly when I lived in New York. Like his books, Nik was loquacious, confrontational and great company, and also slightly unnerving to be around. He didn’t hesitate to snort up cocaine from tables in restaurants and I still recall watching aghast as he was thrown out bodily from a party hosted by Atlantic Records to celebrate the success of the Bee Gees’ Saturday Night Fever, his crime a witheringly merciless putdown of the Rolling Stones in New York magazine. There was also an unpleasant altercation at a Stevie Wonder ‘listening’ event in a recording studio where, at Nik's suggestion, he and I opted to play pool instead of joining in with everyone else sitting immobile while all four sides of Songs In The Key Of Life were played at deafening volume.
All of this came back to me as I recently read Yeah Yeah Yeah by Bob Stanley, published in 2013, which I came to a bit late. A work of enormous scholarship, as readable as it is informative, it is without doubt the grown-up son of Nik’s book, perhaps a shade less provocative with more attention to detail than outright judgement, but Stanley’s style is very similar to Cohen’s – free flowing and wonderfully descriptive with the odd throwaway gem of fascinating trivia and reference to some obscure but brilliant record – and the subject matter is the same, of course, albeit in Yeah Yeah Yeah’s case much updated and far more comprehensive. The comparison is meant as a compliment.
Subtitled The Story Of Modern Pop, Stanley’s book takes as its starting point the first ever UK singles chart, as published in NME on November 14, 1952, thus skipping over the earliest years of recorded music that Peter Doggett covered in his similarly ambitious (and similar-sized) book Electric Shock. It ends around the turn of the century, when ‘modern pop’ succumbs to the digital era, singles sales fall dramatically, the charts cease to be relevant and the music press, no longer influential, caves in to competition from the internet. Like Doggett, Stanley is so displeased by subsequent developments as to ignore them completely.
Yeah Yeah Yeah is less academic and more playful than Electric Shock. Who else, for example, has noted the similarity between Hendrix’s ‘Third Stone From The Sun’ and the theme from Coronation Street? He’s no snob, championing unfashionable acts like The Sweet and The Bee Gees who, along with Abba, get a chapter of their own, unlike heavyweights Led Zeppelin, U2 and Bruce Springsteen. Spector shares one with Joe Meek, a shrewd pairing, Bowie with Bolan, which might have vexed The Dame were he around today, and Prince with Madonna, all their accomplishments neatly summarised and placed into historical context. Footnotes often draw attention to links between eras, many of them surprising but always insightful, chapters often begin or include lists of best-selling records to illustrate where pop is at, as do illustrations at the beginning of each, and I was impressed that every time a single, successful or otherwise, is mentioned it is followed in brackets by its chart position in both the UK and US. It is, after all, the story of modern pop, not rock.
I preferred Yeah Yeah Yeah’s early chapters, the investigations into rock and pop’s past, boogie-woogie and skiffle, and from the tone of the text I suspect the author enjoyed writing these more too. I was a bit surprised that Stanley didn’t dwell on attempts by the music establishment – the BBC, record companies and (shamefully) Melody Maker – to suppress American rock'n'roll, which as Pete Frame points out in The Restless Generation, his book about pre-Beatles UK rock, was like King Canute and the tide. Once we get into the eras with which I am more familiar, there are fewer surprises though Stanley is terrific at terse descriptions: Neil Young, ‘peeking out from beneath curtain hair like a cross between a startled deer and an eagle-eyed Action Man’; Elvis Costello ‘[wearing] a surgically enhanced eyebrow and [writing] pun-packed songs while singing as if he was standing in a fridge’; Madonna ‘like Margaret Thatcher who, as prime minister, never allowed another woman into her cabinet, [she] acted as if she was the only woman allowed in pop.’
Bob Stanley is one-third of the immensely likeable indie-dance group Saint Etienne and there are photographs of him on line standing in front of his record collection, 20,000 LPs or more. Yeah Yeah Yeah is ample proof that he’s listened to every one, even the prog rock and heavy metal, both of which he dissects, albeit with less enthusiasm than Brill Building pop, the Beat Boom, Glam and what he calls New Pop in the eighties. This was another aspect of his book that reminded me of Nik Cohn’s thesis in Rock From The Beginning: that sinking feeling that the best is past.
By the way, you will be pleased to know that the name Cowell does not appear in the index. Highly recommended.

5.6.18

JERRY HOPKINS



My writer friend Jerry Hopkins, who died at the weekend aged 82, was a grizzled old veteran of rock’s seminal years. Not for him the modern day skimming blandly across the surface and kowtowing to PRs whose clients demand a positive spin, vet the questions and require copy approval. No, Jerry was a man who believed in getting down to the nitty-gritty and if the subject of his interest complained, well fuck em. By the time all that shit happened Jerry was long gone anyway, settled in Bangkok with a Thai wife and a wardrobe full of colourful open-necked shirts, writing about Asian aphrodisiacs and transvestite hookers instead of pampered rock stars.
At the time of his death Jerry was working on his memoirs, Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll & Sweet Jasmine Rice, which he summarised for a friend of mine, Chicago-based writer Patricia Butler, author of the book Angels Dance and Angels Die: The Tragic Romance of Pamela and Jim Morrison, published by Omnibus Press after we bought out the original US publishers. Jerry’s summary was as follows: How a small town American Quaker boy met a two-headed cow & a hermaphrodite, served as Steve Allen’s ‘kook-booker’, helped invent & chronicle the 1960s (opening LA’s 1st head shop, nation’s 3rd), wrote the 1st Elvis & Jim Morrison books, others about Jimi, Bowie, Yoko & Raquel, for 20 years reported for Rolling Stone, introduced Lenny Bruce to Groucho Marx, married four times, went bankrupt once, made a paté from his son’s placenta & ate insects & pets & drank ‘five-penis wine’, refused to own a cell phone or credit card, fell in love with a Hawaiian ladyboy, became a sexpatriate in Bangkok, & finally settled down on a farm where the water buffalo roam & the skies are not cloudy all day.”
         Well, I’ll try and follow that before handing the baton back to Patricia.
Jerry’s doorstopper Elvis book, published in 1971, was only the second rock biography I ever read, after Hunter Davies’ Beatles book. Rigorously researched despite the initial hostility of Col Tom Parker, Presley’s manager, it was the first significant book about Elvis and a milestone in rock writing. I read it in 1973, in Los Angeles, and it inspired me to write to Parker requesting an interview with his client. Parker never replied.


I was pleased to be able to get the rights to Jerry’s second Elvis book, The Final Years, for Omnibus Press, and I tried to get his Jim Morrison/Doors book too but we were unable to wrest it from the existing publishers. This was the celebrated No One Here Gets Out Alive, co-written with Doors insider Danny Sugerman and first published in 1980, and it was the basis for Oliver Stone’s 1991 film about Morrison and the group. It became a best-seller, probably one of the best-selling rock books ever, and after Danny died in 2005 Jerry wanted to revise and update it for an e-book edition. This was blocked by The Doors themselves, or at least some of them or their lawyers, on the grounds that it contained lyrics that they controlled, and they somehow exerted their influence over Danny’s widow Fawn Hall – the same Fawn Hall who was secretary to Lt Col Oliver North, the villain of the Iran-Contra affair – who’d inherited Danny’s rights in the book.
Of course, there was far more to it than simply the lyrics. The surviving Doors had been shown a copy of Jerry’s update which reflected badly on them re their behaviour after Jim’s death, most notably Ray Manzarek wanting to grant permission for their songs to be used in commercials. This smacked of greed and, as Jerry well knew, was something that Jim Morrison had explicitly vetoed while he was alive. So they canned it. 
By this time I’d met Jerry once or twice in London, here to promote subsequent books he wrote, and we got on well. He was very funny, not one to mince his words about the characters he’d written about, a refreshing change from many Americans I’d met over the years. I detected a reckless spirit of adventure in him, and we stayed in touch. We corresponded well into the early 2000s, but I baulked at publishing the books he wrote about sex in the orient. Not really Omnibus material, I wrote. He understood.


It was through this correspondence that I learned about his situation with The Doors and No One Here Gets Out Alive. In the event, in 2013 Jerry privately published a kindle-only book called Behind Closed Doors, cheekily trailered on the cover as ‘the book the Doors don’t want you to read’ in which he explained the circumstances surrounding the affair. Many onlookers, including this writer, took the view that his and Danny’s book was in many ways responsible for the regeneration of the Doors’ back catalogue in the early eighties, the renaissance that inspired the Rolling Stone headline “He’s Hot, He’s Sexy and He’s Dead” over one of those famous pictures of Jim taken by Joel Brodsky. This newfound popularity massively enriched the surviving Doors, of course, not to mention the Morrison family, and in view of this I felt they owed Jerry a lot more than a pat on the back. Instead they dumped on him.
It really all began for Jerry in 1968 when, after a spell in the army and working in TV, he was managing LA’s first head shop, where early copies of Rolling Stone were sold. Responding to an entreaty in its columns, he sent in a review of the Doors at the Cheetah Club in Santa Monica that RS published. Editor Jann Wenner, who henceforth crashed on Jerry’s couch whenever he was in LA, offered him a job, and he soon became a mainstay on the magazine. His hilarious December 1972 interview with Keith Moon became the basis for many of the myths that grew up around Keith for the remainder of his life and beyond.
Jerry went on to write more rock biogs, on Bowie, Hendrix and Yoko, but his name would forever be associated with Elvis and Jim Morrison. “Morrison was the most interesting of all the rock stars I met because he was the best conversationalist,” he said in 2013. “Something I always had trouble with at Rolling Stone was that I was interviewing people whose avenue of communication was singing or playing an instrument. Why should anyone expect them to have a political opinion worth listening to? Most of them didn't, but Morrison was interesting on a totally different level.”
In the 1980s Jerry moved to Honolulu, where he wrote about Hawaiian culture, and in 1993 further across the globe to Thailand where he continued to write about travel, food and local culture. By the end of his life he had written 40 books and over 1,000 magazine articles.
He was also helpful to other writers, among them Patricia Butler – he wrote the foreword to her Angels Dance, Angels Die book – and they became good pals, also pen-pals, so I asked her if she had anything to add to anything I might write. “He was hit by a car once,” she wrote to me, “and he told me that when he woke up, face down on the pavement, he was hearing The Doors’ ‘Roadhouse Blues’ in his head: ‘The future's uncertain and the end is always near’, and he made up his mind right then that he was going to follow his bliss, which ultimately ended up taking him to Thailand and the adventure of his life. Sometimes those adventures were hard for me to take. When he first moved to Thailand, he used to send me long, detailed journal entries of what he was getting up to. At one point I asked him to stop, just because some of the things he was doing were so reckless and outlandish that it made me queasy. But that was Jerry. There are so many stories – he lived so many stories – but they’re really all just one story: the future’s uncertain and the end is always near, so let it roll, baby, roll, all night long. The inscription Jim Morrison's father put on his son's headstone – true to his own spirit – is really Jerry’s epitaph, too. 
“When we first became friends, when he was still living in Hawaii, he used to like to fax me drawings of his penis. This was back in the day when you’d have a continuous roll of thermal fax paper. He’d send me a penis with a ribbon on it, or a top hat, or a very detailed cross-section. One night – I seem to remember it was like three in the morning or something – my fax machine, which was in my bedroom, kicked on. I heard the paper coming through, but instead of stopping and cutting where a normal page would end, it just kept coming through. I got up and looked and this nut had sent me through a penis drawing about eight feet long, continuously rolling out of the machine. The man knew how to commit.”
Jerry stayed in Bangkok or on a farm near the Cambodian border until his death, always speaking openly about his encounters with transgender prostitutes. “There's a whiff of danger about Bangkok,” he said in 2013. “I hate to romanticize dirt, but we're talking whores and drugs and the fun things in life.”
Jerry was married four times, had two children, and is survived by a son and daughter, eight grandchildren and Lamyai, whom he married in 2003.

3.6.18

MOOD MUSIC, A Play By Joe Penhall




Mood Music
is a play about the music industry, specifically the abuse of power that enables an established, controlling figure to benefit from the creativity of an artist with less experience and clout. Not, you might think, an obvious subject to tackle on the theatre stage, but writer Joe Penhall has some previous in the Tin Pan Alley literary trade having, according to the programme notes, worked as a music journalist and also collaborated with Ray Davies on the book for Sunny Afternoon, the hugely enjoyable Kinks’ jukebox musical reviewed here: http://justbackdated.blogspot.com/2015/05/sunny-afternoon-kinks-musical.html
The protagonists in Mood Music are Cat (Seána Kerslake), a twenty-something Dublin-born singer songwriter, and Bernard (Ben Chaplin), her older producer-cum-manager who has taken control of her career following the success of a single that Cat wrote and Bernard embellished. Credit is thus shared but Cat is increasingly unwilling to accept Bernard’s gratuitous stance with regard to her work. The dispute over ownership escalates into a legal battle as their lawyers argue the toss and descends into mind games as their therapists probe into their pasts and expose secrets that might explain their combative behaviour.
Written in a sort of time-switch style wherein conversations take place out of strict chronological order and, slightly confusingly, between cast members while others are within earshot but obviously not listening, the play takes a little while to settle down. In the meantime, while the audience is becoming accustomed to the quirky way in which the plot develops, we sympathise with the girl, the victim, and rail against the producer, the bullying oppressor. But there’s more to it than simple good versus evil, as the psychoanalysts discover when both Cat and Bernard discuss their dysfunctional upbringings, giving her a taste for booze and him an ego half a mile wide.
The action takes place in a recording studio, with guitars, a keyboard, an amp and drums at the ready. We see Cat present a song on guitar that Bernard subtly revises with piano chords that she doesn’t much like. “You’ve made it sound like Elton John,” she says at one point, and that’s not a compliment. Bernard is seeking to commercialise her work, which is what their record company want and pay him for; Cat is seeking something a bit more out there, disjointed, independent and cutting edge. The dilemma is unresolved.

Seána Kerslake as Cat and Ben Chaplin as Bernard

Points are made about how the music industry treats women – it is suggested that Cat was transported from gig to gig in a near catatonic state – and how damaged individuals often create the best art. At one point, Bernard states that Lennon and McCartney wrote ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ for the mothers they lost as teenagers, a contention I’d contest but it’s probably included to make the point about how the past shapes the present. In another scene Bernard’s arrogance takes centre stage when the song in question wins an Ivor Novello award – he grabs the attention, making a predictably insincere speech and forcing Cat into a subservient role, and afterwards proselytises about how little the award really means to him. It made me hate him even more.
While the lawyers make claims and counter-claims the relationship between Cat and Bernard deteriorates. Eventually they reach an agreement wherein Bernard will concede his rights in Cat’s work if she agrees not to pursue claims about unseemly behaviour on tour, but just as it looks as if the play will end with both parties going their own way, albeit grudgingly, Cat tears up the contract and the curtain falls. So we never find out what happens in the end.
Ben Chaplin makes a terrific villain, a male chauvinist and a tyrant but also a rather pathetic figure who knows deep inside – but refuses to admit – that he needs to step aside and let youth take over. Seána Kerslake’s Cat is almost as successful as the put-upon singer, desperate to realise the dreams she’s nursed since her musician father, now deceased, set her on to the road to becoming a musician herself. The other four cast members – two lawyers and two analysts – add a touch of humour and depth to the plot. In some respects the play casts welcome light on the oft-quoted truism ‘where’s there’s a hit there’s a writ’ and I can certainly recommend it to anyone with more than a passing interest in the music industry; an unflinching look the dirty side of our industry of human happiness.
At the Old Vic, London, until 16 June.